On February 12, 2007, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed into law the nation’s first universal school voucher bill. Called the “Parent Choice in Education Act,” the law creates a voucher program that is open to any child currently attending public school in Utah, along with entering kindergartners and private school students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. The voucher amounts are graduated, ranging from $3,000 for low-income families to $500 for wealthier families, and parents may choose from a full range of religious and non-religious schools.
But the ink was barely dry on the new law before school choice opponents swooped in with a new stratagem for saving the public school monopoly. Confident in their ability to demagogue the issue and mobilize their anti-choice base, they called for a statewide referendum.
If opponents collect roughly 92,000 signatures, the issue will go on the ballot at the next election, which is not until November 2008. The program will be on hold during that time. Even if Utahans ultimately vote for choice in the referendum, school choice opponents will still have delayed the program for two years and will no doubt seek to delay it even longer by playing their next card, a constitutional challenge in court.
Fortunately, Utah has an outstanding team of local advocates for school choice in Parents for Choice in Education, which is already mobilizing parents and other supporters to thwart the forces of educational mediocrity and monopoly. However long it takes, we are confident that Utah’s path-breaking efforts toward universal school choice will ultimately bear fruit and become an inspiration for other states looking to jettison the increasingly indefensible educational status quo.